God’s Will in a Short Reminder

Most of the time, I’m not confused about God’s will for me. I don’t fret over what I”m supposed to be doing and how God’s going to use me. If I need to know about those things, I can go to his Word and find out. I can memorize scripture to help me remember those things as I go about my day. His instructions are explained in simple terms and usually take the form of simple acts.

As I become more familiar with God’s will for me, I learn that there isn’t anything mentioned that I cannot do, but often there are things I balk at doing. Having scripture like the one above helps to remind me to keep it simple.

Rejoice. Pray in all circumstances. Give thanks. Put those three together and they spell Worship.

Be a blessing to someone today.

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A Peace That Transcends Everything

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7; emphasis mine).

Truthfully, the current patterns of the world are not worse than ever. Hard to believe, but it’s true.

We are in no more danger sitting at home in our living rooms than the ancients were. There has always been war. We have always seen unrest in families. Children have always, unfortunately, been neglected or abused. Economies crash. People betray us. Loved ones die.

Sin took its toll on Earth and we have never been the same. At one time, it got so bad that God flooded the earth and saved only one family.

Believe me, this is not meant to be a gloomy article or a prophecy about what God has in mind for us if we don’t obey. Today I merely point these things out because they are the reality we have always lived in.

However, for those who trust God in everything, we have hope. We also have peace because we know that, no matter how things look right now, keeping an eternal perspective presents the reality our Lord showed us.

Are you struggling today with unrest in your family? Is someone sick or have a chronic illness? Does your financial situation look sick as well? Is a loved one fighting to defend freedom in a foreign country and you wait while they come home? Are you grieving?

Whatever the situation, God will, if you ask, give you wisdom, strength to endure, and the knowledge you need to come through your struggle. You can be at peace when you understand how faithful he is.

God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). Even though he sends the rains, he has compassion on those who suffer. Because God has shown me mercy and because I finally acknowledge that, I can have compassion on people who, a few years ago, I would have shown indignation. I might have even been angry with them without knowing their individual circumstances. It’s a humbling thing for God to show me how arrogant I can be.

Our struggles are temporary like everything else in the world. To keep this in mind also helps to endure and press on. Today, know that I’m praying for you. I don’t know your struggles, but God does, and he’s there for you when you call on him.

Heavenly Father, please help those reading this to know the peace which passes all understanding. Not a peace as the world gives through temporary things, but the peace which you give. Your love for us means you are faithful to provide, to still our hearts, to heal. Thank you for giving your Son, Jesus, who is our Savior and Friend. Amen.

 

Contentment as a Way of Life

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13).

The apostle Paul is saying he learned contentment by trusting the Lord for everything. Knowing God is in control of every aspect of our lives is the “secret” he talks about. If God’s eye is on the sparrow, know that He watches over you.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26)

Top Ten Reasons It’s Cool to Be Christ-like

If you’re serious about being like Jesus, here you go with some great ways to follow his lead.

  1. Jesus lived a sinless life. 2 Corinthians 5:21; Colossians 1:19
  1. Jesus prayed for His friends–and some people He’d never met. John 17:6-26
  1. Jesus submitted to authority. John 12:49-50; Luke 22:42
  1. Jesus forgives everyone. Everyone, no matter what they did or do. Luke 23:34; 1 John 1:9
  1. Jesus never compromised the truth. Mark 8:34-35; John 8:10-11
  1. Jesus guided people into truth without hitting them over the head with it. Matthew 5-7; Luke 24:25-27
  1. Jesus is full of joy and peace–and shares it. John 14:27; John 15:11
  1. Jesus kept his priorities straight and was good at time management. Mark 1:35-39
  1. Jesus attended parties, enjoying fellowship with all types of people. Luke 7:36-38; Matthew 9:10; John 2:1,2

And the Number One Reason it’s cool to be Christ-like:

Jesus loves everyone, even those who don’t like Him and those who disagree with Him. Matthew 23:37

Sweet Tea and a Distasteful Flavor

“There’s a Fly in my Tea! The Importance of Maintaining a Christian Testimony;                By Crystal L. Ratcliff;  CrossLink Publishing 2016

A Book Review

Crystal Ratcliff, has presented a metaphor we can probably all relate to whether we drink our tea sweet or otherwise. Flies are pesky and dirty. We don’t want them crawling on the rim of our glass. The metaphor fits perfectly for the subject of this 11-session Bible study about our witness for Jesus. The cover design adds beautifully to the “ewwww” factor.

Maintaining a sweet, pure Christian testimony, says Ratcliff, means doing many things she believes we can learn from the life of the Apostle Peter. Her first lesson, however, gets someone off on the right foot before the study begins. She challenges her readers to examine their lives in light of their personal salvation and person relationship with the Lord. Since the book is meant to be studied with others, discussing these answers honestly can only be of benefit to each member and to the group itself.

Ratcliff’s style is relaxed and her tone is friendly. She expects the audience is women and that they share their stories within a group. However, the study could be done independently, if necessary.

The fact that Crystal takes the student right into scripture helps them to see how it relates to other scriptures. The lessons include just enough related verses to help the reader understand the lesson and how the lesson should be applied. An aspect of the study I appreciated was her openness regarding her own failings. Done in a safe environment, sharing what keeps us coming back to Jesus for help aids in discussion.

Subjects covered over the eleven-session study are trusting God totally; keeping my focus on God; walking in the Spirit in relation to how we spend our time; and believing who Jesus says he is versus the world’s view of him.

Ratcliff also mentions the tendency Christians have to witness about their church rather than being a sweet and pure witness for Christ alone. In her own way she says we would do better to point people to Jesus rather than a specific church body or denomination.

No church is perfect, she says, because no people are perfect. We all need to learn to pray more faithfully, forgive more quickly, and serve in love. But “our goal in studying this,” she says, “should be to protect ourselves from being an ‘offender.’”

To some readers, “There’s a Fly in my Tea” will seem like a course in Bible 101. If that’s the case, let me suggest you become the person Jesus commanded you to be and disciple others by leading them through this short study. Those new to the Christian faith will certainly get some of their questions answered. Recruit a couple of your more mature Christian friends to join in and they will help teach the younger women, which is a biblical principle taught by Paul.

The narrative sections are refreshing to anyone who even remotely understands the importance of a relationship with Jesus. The lists of questions at the end of each chapter (never more than 6-8) are just challenging enough to keep us teachable.

 

The reviewer received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through the BookCrash.com book review program. The opinions expressed are those of the reviewer.

 

Short Stories for Empowering Youth

“Ed’s Tohlet & Other Stories: The Teen’s Guide to Spiritual Growth; By Don Keele, Jr.; Teach Services, Inc. Publishing; 103 pages

Don Keele has spent his career pastoring teens and young adults and helping them engage in church ministry. This book, humorous and challenging even to adults, is a written vehicle for doing so.

Through the power of story, Keele examines areas of strength as well as weakness in himself. We get to know him as he was as a youngster, a teen, and an adult. He tells on himself and it’s an endearing thing to see. Too often, Christians fail to make connections with the unchurched (not to mention with one another) because of a desire to not seem vulnerable.

But the lessons we need to learn, implied in Keele’s parables, come when we admit how much we need our Savior.

In “Smells,” the first story in Ed’s Tohlet, he starts off right. Not only does he indicate how we can be unaware of our spiritual need, he offers the reader a chance to decide to be one with Christ. And isn’t that the starting point for us all?

Keele handles such topics as bullying, Christian service (this is where the ‘tohlet’ comes in), pain, faith in our prayers, accepting God’s “No,” obedience, and more. While directed at a teen audience, this Christ follower found wisdom to follow and even took some notes.

In “Secret Weapon,” Keele describes what it meant to finally be part of an athletic team when he knew he had absolutely no athletic ability. Someone else showed faith in his ability to help. With success, came this realization

“I had only done what Richard had taught me…

Allow (God) to do that work and simply do what He asks you to do.”

At times, Don gets a little off-topic (and sometimes he admits it). Sometimes he seems a might preachy. But his stories really are funny in places. They really do point us to our own experiences with peer pressure, temptation, and a need to belong. They’re not just the needs of teenagers.

God has challenged me in a specific area and take I it seriously. After reading “COPS,” the author’s story about being pulled over and witnessing an arrest, the challenge God extends is even more real. That would the challenge to bear witness of God’s love and goodness to the world. Not just to those whom we celebrate with on the Sabbath and in our Christian huddles.

The reviewer received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through the BookCrash.com book review program. The opinions expressed are those of the reviewer.

Hope, Anger, and Courage

augustine-on-hopes-daughters

The world is full of trouble. We shouldn’t be surprised by this. Jesus knew we’d experience trouble.

“In this world you will have trouble.” John 16:33

Jesus doesn’t leave us without hope, however, because in the same breath he says he’s giving us his peace. He says he’s already overcome the world. The Amplified Bible version adds the words “I have deprived it of power to harm you.”

Knowing his peace and the fact that troubles have no power over us doesn’t mean we hide our heads in the sand and not looking at the world’s troubles. That isn’t the message Jesus means to convey. He certainly said a lot about acting to help those in need. To be a good neighbor. Pray for our enemies. Forgive from our hearts.

Jesus got angry. But it wasn’t selfish anger; it was anger that was justified. The things that made him angry needed to be made right because innocent people were suffering. The call to be like Jesus means we follow his lead. Are you measuring your anger about a situation or against a person based on Jesus’s example?

Are you bold like Jesus? Do you take risks to make the world a better place, even if it’s just the little space of world where you live? What is he calling you to be courageous about today?

Pray for the ability to make change and bring justice to a situation as Jesus would. Then, you’re offering hope to the world that is full of trouble.

Comfort Foodie

An Education

No one educated me as I was growing up about the proper terms used for the various gatherings which occur when someone dies. The only word I was familiar with was “funeral.”

Later, I learned there was also quite often a “visitation.” People went to the facility that was handling the funeral and viewed the body. They spoke in low tones and offered condolences to the bereaved family members. I didn’t know for a long time that this is also called a “wake.”

I became confused the first time I arrived at a funeral and the man at the entrance asked if I was going to the cemetery for graveside services. But I was still learning.

Finally, with graveside services over, we’d gather for the “funeral dinner.”

A Bit of Reality

A little over a month ago, someone who was special to me passed away. And though I’ve been to many funerals during my life, I’m still learning. This wonderful man’s life celebration gave me pause as I sat and watched the people around me.

In the chapel of my church, a buffet luncheon and tables were set up. We filled our plates and sat with friends to share memories or to just have normal conversations. I realized that having a funeral dinner gives a different meaning to “comfort food.” When we lose someone we love, we need to feel, even if for a short time, something resembling normal. We meet over a meal and we’re somehow comforted.

If a funeral dinner happens at a church, the food was most likely prepared by church members in their homes. The food is often simple. Friends and family members help by offering a kind of stability in shaky circumstances. The simpler we keep things, the better. Even silences can be healing.

Last week a long-time friend notified me her husband had died. I didn’t look forward to attending another funeral. But I surely was ready to be there to comfort her. That meant being there in any way she needed.

It turned out that I sat with her and her children, whom I’d watch grow up, at the funeral dinner. We ate some “comfort food” and talked about normal stuff. If I was the betting type, I’d bet that it won’t be long before she and I are sharing more memories over a meal and talking about what’s making life normal again now that she’s grieving.

A Recipe For Caring

We don’t like to admit it, but we know that food seems to make things better.

We get up in the morning and our bodies are ready for sustenance. Food makes that bodily craving go away. “Ah, that’s better.”

Someone’s having a baby and we throw a shower. Food–especially chocolate–makes the occasion better. Weddings include a feast following the ceremony. Because food makes it even better. The Saturday football game at our alma mater begs a tailgater. Except for our team winning, what could possibly make it better?

We celebrate the milestones in life with food, join in conversations at the dinner table with our family, grab some of that famous Mackinac Island fudge while we’re on vacation, and roast marshmallows over a campfire. Because food makes getting together so much better.

An Example to Follow

Scour the Bible and you find many instances in which Jesus was eating with people. Indeed, a couple of his most famous miracles included feeding thousands of people. What we in the Church call communion is based on the Lord’s command during his last meal with the disciples to “remember him.”

I doubt very much they realized the bread and wine were “comfort food.”

But I’m still learning and I know. It’s why we say we celebrate communion. In community we celebrate, we remember, and we look to the future.

Loving Father, I pray we always know the way to celebrate life, even when we face life without someone we love. Help us to make each moment precious and to create communion–community–whenever we meet with people. Thank you for the gift of food and the many ways it sustains us. Thank you for the simplicity it can offer in a grave situation. Help us to find our ultimate joy and purpose in you and to realize Christ is the bread of life. Thank you, Jesus, for being the comfort food that will never leave us hungry.

Can’t Turn Back

Years ago in my small group, I was reminded of the scene where Jesus is once again being questioned by his own people–Jews–about who he is and why he does what he does. The scene takes place in John chapter 6. Jesus is explaining in terms that they obviously don’t understand.

He calls himself the “bread of life.” He also says if anyone drinks from him they’ll never be thirsty. After telling them that to eat his flesh and drink his blood means they’ll have a life in him, they’re totally confused.

“When many of the disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” (6:60) After this, John records, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (6:66)

At first glance, I think if I were standing there with questions and Jesus said I had to eat him and drink his blood, I might consider making an exit as well.

Recently, I watched the movie “A League of Their Own” again. The film is about a women’s baseball league formed during WWII, but it’s about so much more. Toward the end of the movie, Dottie, who is by everyone’s estimation the best player in the league, decides she’s going home because her husband has returned from the war.

The bus is about to leave for the final series and her team is playing in it. Coach Dugan talks to her about her decision and makes the point that “baseball is inside” her.

“It just got too hard,” Dottie says.

“It’s supposed to be hard,” Coach Jimmy replies. “If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The ‘hard’ is what makes it great.” With that, he turns and walks back to the bus and his team.

Sitting in my small group back then, I remember thinking of what Jesus said to his twelve apostles when that confused and probably disgusted group turned and walked away.

“You do not want to leave too, do you?”

Peter, as usual, believes he speaks for them all when he says, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Coach Dugan quote

During that meeting it occurred to me that, even if I hadn’t actually put words to it, I knew I’d never want to leave Jesus and go back to what I’d been doing before. I thought about that lifestyle and it sickened me. How could I turn back and not follow? I thought. Jesus had gotten inside me.

But following can be hard. In fact,

“Jesus promised his disciples three things–that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.” F.R. Maltby

Do you find that following Jesus is difficult sometimes? If Jesus says we believers are the light of the world, doesn’t that mean shining brightly in a dark world is part of the package? If we’re the salt of the earth, wouldn’t that mean being a savory addition to the lives we touch?

Some days I’m a measly 40-watt bulb with a heavy layer of dust covering me. Ask me to be salty and I might make some comment about preventing hypertension.

It can be hard.

Fortunately, and by the grace of God, we aren’t expected to be salt and light in our own power. Just like Dottie had a coach, we have the Holy Spirit to direct us and help us when things get hard. She had team mates and we have the members of Christ’s Church to encourage and support us.arrow with leader on top

Coach Jimmy Dugan’s words are true for many things. It’s hard to raise children. Working on our relationships to keep them afloat is hard. We aren’t going to just breeze through college or through a military career. Right now you might be involved in a project that’s overwhelming you.

But if it wasn’t hard, just like being a follower of Jesus can be, everyone would do it. It helps to remember what’s on the other side of this life.

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Father in heaven, I thank you today that I have a choice to follow and that you rescued me from the lifestyle I seemed trapped in. When you give me a task to do that I balk at because it’s hard, remind me that you’re always in control. Thank you for making me salt and light to the world. Remind me that when I see your work in the world that the “hard” is what’s making this life as a follower “great.”